Snakes and Pills

148 - tuxedo

Before the sirens began bellowing, Richard knew. He had been living here long enough to get a sense for these things. When he got out of bed this morning and looked out on the horizon through his worn bedroom windows, he was already certain.

Still, he went to work the fields, as he did every morning. The storm was brewing, but there was always work to be done. No telling if he and his farm would be fortunate enough to be spared destruction, or so unlucky as to bear the brunt of it. By the end of the day, everything he had in the world could be destroyed. Or not, and if not, he still needed to tend the crops.

The wailing of the sirens finally came a few minutes after noon. Richard was standing on the front porch of his homestead, enjoy a post-lunch smoke. It was the little things in life, after all. At least the sirens had sounded before he got back to work. He would have been really irritated if he were halfway to his tractor only to get called back to the house.

His wife, Virginia, opened the screen door and faced her husband with a worried expression on her face. Richard nodded to her, unfazed by the unsettling sounds emanating from the distance. "Tornado warning. We all ought to get down to the cellar. Don't worry, I got everything all ready down there," he said, reassuringly.

Virginia's expression betrayed a deeper sense of worry. They had been through quite a few scares like this, twisters came with the territory. She looked into his eyes, her own already growing glassy with tears. "The girls," she said, her voice cracking before she could say anything more.

"What about the girls? There's plenty of room," he began.

"No," Virginia interrupted, regaining enough composure to talk. "They went down to the pond for a picnic this morning. They're not back yet."

Richard flicked what was left of his cigarette down onto the dirt in his driveway as he ran toward his old pickup truck. He didn't allow his face to show any of the fear that his wife's did. But he felt it, and he moved with a sense of urgency, a man knowing that lives were on the line.

His truck kicked up furious plumes of dust as he rocketed down the unpaved road. The pond was only a few miles away, but tornadoes could strike quickly and unexpectedly. He looked up at the sky through his dirty windshield. What had been blue and calm thirty minutes ago was now dark gray and thundering. Fat droplets of rain began to pound down around him.

Richard's two granddaughters had only arrived at the farm two weeks ago. City kids forced to spend their summer in the country while Mom and Dad worked, he and Virginia had few means to keep them entertained. They had some old bicycles, and the girls seemed to enjoy riding them around well enough. He had shown them how to ride to the pond, where they could go swimming and relax in the sun.

He couldn't blame Virginia for letting them go out today, as he hadn't shared his inkling about today's meteorological outlook with his wife. This morning looked like it would lead to another perfect day for an outing at the old swimming hole.

The girls wouldn't know what the sirens meant. He hoped they would have the sense to start home when they heard them. But maybe the sudden inclement weather would make them stay put. The thought made Richard feel sick.

He pressed down harder on the gas pedal, continuing to look for bicycles headed toward him in the distance.


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